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The Problem in Coaching Style Without Substance

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Norwegian coach Martin Sjogren later suggested that it was England’s first goal and a fairly soft penalty that made his team uneasy. “We started cracking a bit and made some bad decisions,” he said. There are some truths in it. Thorisdottir, who acknowledged her penalty, seemed uncertain and frozen in all her touches, all her movements, as if suffering from her mistakes.

But Sjogren’s claim is not entirely true. To attribute the collapse of Norway solely to individual mistakes is essentially a confusion between symptoms and causes. The problem was that it caused the Sjogren side to bend and break brilliantly, not a series of unrelated isolated incidents, but a systematic flaw. England showed its hand and its opponent could not adapt miserably.

Of course, part of that responsibility lies with the player. Mjelde and Thorisdottir are certainly well experienced in identifying weaknesses in the team and reacting accordingly. Perhaps you’re sitting a little deeper, refusing to get off the line with White’s movements, or moving Blakstad closer to increase protection.

But most of it rests on Sjogren’s own shoulders. A series of individual errors can be evidence of some major psychological failure, but clearly more likely to be evidence of a flaw in the team’s strategy. Good players make consistently poor choices only when faced with limited choices. And it’s ultimately up to the coach.

Especially in Europe, the caliber of female soccer players has skyrocketed in recent years. The sophistication and technical style that surged at the European Championship this summer provides ample evidence of that. However, it is difficult to claim that the quality of coaches is following exactly the same trajectory.

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